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Circling Chairs

10/08/2020 02:23:12 PM


I'm going to admit that some of the things we are doing differently this Sukkot as a result of the virus have been amazingly enjoyable to me. Joining virtual services and Zoom meetings from my sukkah? It’s been great! Getting those picnic vibes by eating every meal with your family outside? You betcha! Not getting poked by the lulav of the person behind you during hoshanot? First time unscathed! But not everything is rainbows and butterflies. On this last point, it is decidedly odd to circle a chumash on a chair in place of hoshanot in the sanctuary which is a shame because I have never been sincerer with these prayers.

A little bit of context: when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was still standing, the altar would be decorated with willows, and worshipers would circle the altar and ask God for deliverance. With the onset of the rainy season, the start of the harvest, and the uncertainty of the year ahead, the congregation would declare “Ana Adonai hoshea na, ana Adonai Hatzlicha na,” “Please God; help us, Please God; make us prosperous.” While this refrain gets the limelight from the Hallel service, and from the introduction to each round of dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, we apportion an entire part of our Sukkot services to these very themes. Taking a hold of our lulav and etrog, we simulate the circling that was done at the altar of the Jerusalem Temple by circling a Torah held at the center bima while reciting many requests for God’s assistance; the hoshanot. However, when you are stuck at home, then we hobble together the next best thing, and place a chumash on a chair. Thus holding my branches and fruit, I parade around this chair and book; by myself. I used to think that beating the willows on the ground was the strangest part of Sukkot, but this custom might have it beat.

In a time when our society has come to a social standstill, and in an age where there is uncertainty about the year ahead, and in a world where microscopic dangers lurk nearby, the hoshanot have never felt so emotionally and spiritually laden. And to only be able to circle my chair with the most sacred book in my house leaves me feeling like I really didn’t capture the sincerity of my prayers. We might not always have a clear vision or the perfect solution to all of life’s problems, but we know we have to keep on going. We have to keep our hearts full of prayer and our feet walking the right path. And even if that path takes us in circles around a chair in our basements, at least we are continuing to move forward. Because that is what the hoshanot are all about; the idea that with God’s help, tomorrow can be better than today. We just have to keep walking and praying that tomorrow will come speedily enough.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784